Clouds drive differences in future surface melt over the Antarctic ice shelves

Recent warm atmospheric conditions have damaged the ice shelves of the Antarctic Peninsula through surface melt and hydrofracturing and could potentially initiate future collapse of other Antarctic ice shelves. However, model projections with similar greenhouse gas scenarios suggest large differences in cumulative 21st-century surface melting. So far it remains unclear whether these differences are due to variations in warming rates in individual models or whether local feedback mechanisms of the surface energy budget could also play a notable role. Here we use the polar-oriented regional climate model MAR (Modèle Atmosphérique Régional) to study the physical mechanisms that would control future surface melt over the Antarctic ice shelves in high-emission scenarios RCP8.5 and SSP5-8.5. We show that clouds enhance future surface melt by increasing the atmospheric emissivity and longwave radiation towards the surface. Furthermore, we highlight that differences in meltwater production for the same climate warming rate depend on cloud properties and particularly cloud phase. Clouds containing a larger amount of supercooled liquid water lead to stronger melt, subsequently favouring the absorption of solar radiation due to the snowmelt–albedo feedback. As liquid-containing clouds are projected to increase the melt spread associated with a given warming rate, they could be a major source of uncertainties in projections of the future Antarctic contribution to sea level rise.


Publication status:
Authors: Kittel, Christoph, Amory, Charles, Hofer, Stefan, Agosta, Cécile, Jourdain, Nicolas C., Gilbert, Ella ORCIDORCID record for Ella Gilbert, Le Toumelin, Louis, Vignon, Étienne, Gallée, Hubert, Fettweis, Xavier

On this site: Ella Gilbert
7 July, 2022
The Cryosphere / 16
15pp / 2655-2669
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